Last week, I went to a workshop on communication and palliative care. My coworker and I felt a bit out of place, because the majority of participants were nurses or doctors. I wish that more colleagues in pastoral care would have been there. I learned so much.
Often, a terminal diagnosis is delivered in such a way that it implies failure on behalf of the doctor, the patient or both. As much as 60% of the time, the conversation might be entirely avoided. Telling a patient “there is nothing more we can do” forces the practitioner to push the limits of comfort with their own sense of mortality.
The presenter stressed that in the instance of palliative care, we can always do something more. There is always something more that can be done for the patient when the goal shifts from sanation of disease to mitigation of suffering.
So what does this have to do with my job as pastoral associate?
A few weeks ago, a colleague shared that while he was away for studies this summer, he was advised that pastoral ministers should get in the habit of saying “yes” more frequently. At first, I thought this made about as much sense as planning the music for Sunday with my Magic 8 Ball. (Please join in singing, Prospects are Grim.) After I thought about it, I realized he was right.
Our ‘yes’ often indicates more work for the pastoral person. It might mean showing up on a day off. It might mean a few persuasive conversations with teammates or a phone call to consult the worship office. In the pastoral arena, “there is always something more we can do,” translates as, “we can always say yes,” — as long as we shift our focus from treating the immediate need to following a long-term plan.
Recently, I found myself engaged in a conversation with a family who inquired about baptism of a child who was born into some challenging circumstances. The individual who made initial contact had summoned a lot of courage to ask questions which might otherwise be met with judgement or hostility. She explained that in this particular instance, there was a lot of guilt and regret involved. After listening I responded this way:
“The answer is always ‘yes.’ It might take a while to get there, but if you’re willing to take a few proactive steps, we can help to make this happen.”
It was a great conversation, and I’m looking forward to watching this unfold.
In every situation, every predicament, there is an unexpected loophole, a “yes” underneath a pile of “no.” Sometimes that “yes” might be to our advantage, as it forces everyone involved to work a little bit more for something, and it is possible that along the way, one may discover it was way more work than it was worth. Other times, the ‘yes’ exposes us to unexpected challenges.
In all cases, ‘yes’ is the fullest encounter with God, who came into the world as child, carried in the body of a woman who said without hesitation, “yes.”